Nutritious, tasty, and, most importantly, sustainable, crickets could take over the world as the next superfood if you believe Hoppa’s founder Channy Sandhu. Here’s why.
We get it. Creepy crawlies may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about what you want on your dinner plate, but insects are actually nutrition-packed, easy to be farmed sustainably, and – when in the right hands– absolutely delicious.
Paving the way for integrating insect-based foods into our diet is Australian superfood brand Hoppa. Founded in May 2019, Hoppa is now selling cricket-packed pasta, baking powder, and protein powder throughout Australia through various e-commerce platforms – including their website, Amazon, and health food marketplaces like Yolife.
Here, we speak with founder Channy Sandhu to find out more about the world’s next superfood. From the nutrition of crickets and sustainability around cricket farming, to the challenges and opportunities in the rising edible insect industry, here’s what he had to say.
My wife and I were travelling around Asia in 2017, and it was in Thailand that I first came across edible crickets. People there pretty much had them whole – whether that’s roasted or fried. Coming all the way from the UK and Australia to Asia, I was initially taken aback and hesitant about the thought of eating insects but then I thought I would give it a try just as one of those touristy things to do. To my surprise, I actually really enjoyed the taste of it.
I then got to speak with the street vendor and learnt that people there have actually been eating crickets for centuries, and I was surprised by how much information he had about the nutrition of crickets as well. When I got back to Australia, I started researching more into the benefits of eating insects. I then found out it was potentially a food item that could solve global food shortage problems and just couldn’t get my head around why people weren’t doing it more.
Why did you decide to sell pasta, baking powder, and protein powder made of crickets?
There’s a big gap between Asian countries – where people have been eating insects for centuries – and the West, where we’re accustomed to more processed foods. In order to bridge the gap between the two regions, I knew that I would need to introduce it in a manner that the West is already accustomed to. So, rather than selling whole insects, we decided to incorporate insects into products that would fit the Western market and pantry, like flour and pasta. We also decided to launch a range of products to make sure that everyone is able to try them within their normal food consumption palette.
What has the feedback been like?
Feedback so far has been great – we’ve received a lot of positive reviews and people are coming back for our products. Regarding the taste, customers say that there’s not a huge difference between regular pasta and cricket pasta, whereas the powders taste a bit nutty and earthy.
Some have also been coming back and asking for a wider range of products. We are working to launch a selection of energy bars in the next two to three months, as well as flavoured protein flavours in the future. One other major feedback we got has been around gluten-free and paleo-friendly products. While both our protein powder and flour are gluten-free and paleo-friendly, we unfortunately only sell wheat-based pasta at the moment.
The third thing is with shipping. We’ve had people from Europe and Asia wanting to buy our products but unfortunately, we only ship within Australia at the moment because of logistical challenges. But, we hope to open the doors to countries worldwide within the next few months.
Can you paint a picture of what the edible insect industry is like right now?
It’s a relatively young industry that’s still in its experimental stage, so people in the industry are really supportive. Everyone in the industry is taking a risk, coming in and bringing in their knowledge and expertise to build and mature the industry.
There’s also going to be a number of things that need to be tried and tested. We source our crickets from offshore at the moment because Asia’s been farming and eating insects for centuries so they’ve really mastered this. In Europe and Australia, this industry is fairly new so there’s going to be refinements that will come along the way.
How nutritious are crickets?
For the size they are, crickets are extremely nutritious. I used to believe that beef has the most protein, spinach has the most iron, and milk has got the most calcium. But, crickets blow all these theories out of the window because crickets have actually got more protein, iron, and calcium than all of them. Crickets also contain more Vitamin B12 than salmon and have a complete amino profile, so they’re really the complete package. Whereas a lot of people used to eat meat with their pasta for protein intake, now they can just have cricket pasta with a vegetarian sauce on there and still get a good amount of nutrients without having to consume huge amounts of meat or other proteins.
In fact, I think crickets have probably got the best chance of becoming the next superfood. This is not just purely because of their nutrition, but also because of how sustainable cricket farming practices are.
Can you tell us more about the sustainability behind cricket farming?
Crickets can grow on organic waste matter like nuts, seeds, and banana peels. For our cricket farm, we normally get a pre-mixed certified feed made up of things like rice shells, oats, and peeling. These are all organic waste from food production that would normally be thrown away, so it’s a very earth-friendly farming practice.
Unlike cattle farming, the farming process for crickets is also not very resource-intensive. A cow would give birth to one calf, it would take two to three years worth of resources and food for it to grow, and you probably only utilise around 50% of the cow for food. Whereas for crickets, they’re around 60 to 70% protein, and they normally produce around 1200 to 1300 eggs then this number just grows.
Are crickets unhealthy or dangerous to consume in any way?
They’re not dangerous to consume. Obviously we recommend eating farmed insects rather than ones that are just picked from the garden because there’s no traceability to them. The ones that are farmed purely for human consumption, however, are absolutely safe to consume. For our farms, we feed the crickets certified pre-mix feed rather than general organic matter to ensure we get the best quality farming practices into our products.
Are there any common misconceptions about crickets?
Some people think the process of cricket farming is cruel because it’s a kind of livestock that’s being killed for food, but it’s actually the opposite. Crickets live quite a good life – they’re generally accustomed to living in dark and closed spaces so they are happy to be farmed in a vertical farming system without a huge amount of land. Their lifespan is also about six to eight weeks and their harvesting comes towards the end of their lifestyle so they live a comfortable life.
Any challenges when it comes to selling cricket byproducts?
The biggest challenge is just getting over the fact that you’re putting an insect in your mouth. A lot of people have not heard of this so I think they get taken back – just like when people were first introduced to raw fish, they laughed at the idea but now sushi is everywhere. Lobsters were initially treated as this sea insect but now they’re a delicacy.
The other thing is the price. Unfortunately, cricket pasta is currently still priced higher than regular pasta because of supply and demand issues.
How can you overcome this challenge?
By getting that information about why cricket consumption is so important and good for us out to the masses. I’ve made brownies and protein balls out of cricket flour and cricket protein powder numerous times for my daughter and she loves them. I’m sure there are other people out there like my daughter who are raised to treat insect consumption just as normality. So, it’s just us and the generation before us where there’s a bit of a challenge to overcome. But, when we try and explain it to people, they start to realise the importance of crickets in our current food situation. I think a lot of people are supportive of the fact that we’re trying to do something out of the ordinary, and it’s more pats on the back than laughs in the front as such.
What do you envision the edible insect industry becoming in the future?
Legislation has been good because edible insects are now recognised by the UN and health food agencies worldwide, which has formalised the fact that edible insects are actually good for consumption and opened the door for our business. We hope that with the right kind of information, we should be able to overcome this in the next couple of years and insect consumption will become the mainstream.